Actually, this post won’t do a whole lot of catching up, as I have at least two months of reading that has gone undocumented here. It will have to stay undocumented, mostly. But I was thinking that I might try to do a once-weekly (or so — don’t want to get too specific) overview of what’s going on with my reading, as a way of keeping up with the blog without writing the long reviews I’m not feeling much like writing these days. We’ll see how that goes.
But first, I do want to say that Mark Doty’s Dog Years is unmissable if you like nonfiction and like dogs — and it’s unmissable even if you don’t like those things, although I won’t insist on that quite so loudly. But seriously, it’s not a book just for dog-lovers. It’s about Doty’s experiences with his two dogs, no surprise, but it’s really a book about loss, life, and death more generally, and it’s beautiful and profound. It’s so warm and human and moving, and it’s the best attempt to understand the mind of a dog I’ve ever read, while at the same time being very careful to acknowledge that dogs are not humans and we can’t ever really understand their mysteries. I think what works so well is that he shows such great respect for dogs, for their individuality and dignity, and he makes an important case for why loving animals matters and is not merely a waste of time and energy that could be devoted to other things.
Okay, now for more recent reading. I picked up Mrs. Dalloway the other day as part of my most likely decades-long attempt to read and reread Woolf’s major works. It’s been a while since my last Woolf book, The Common Reader. I’m not sure if this is my second or third reading of the novel, although I would guess it’s my third. I do know I read it in 1998, since I wrote that on the inside cover of my copy. It’s such a joy to return to, and I love the way the book makes me slow down to read it carefully. I don’t want to miss an idea or an image.
I’m enjoying the novel so much, I decided to pick up the second volume of her diary, which will take me through the four years up to the publication of Mrs. Dalloway. I’m thinking of keeping the diary on my nightstand and reading it before bed, which will mean I’ll probably be reading it for the next year or so, but that’s okay. I’ve also been tempted to pick up Hermione Lee’s biography of Woolf, and I still might do it, but I’m worried that I’ll feel bogged down by its length, slow reader that I am.
I’m also in the middle of Tom Bissell’s new essay collection Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation. I really liked the first four essays, three of which are on literary topics and one of which is about film. The essay “Writing about Writing about Writing” is a very fun overview of how-to-write books, and there’s another great one on the Underground Literary Alliance and insiders and outsiders in the literary/publishing world. The next two essays haven’t been up to the quality of the first four, and I particularly disliked one in which he attacked the political writer Robert Kaplan. He may well need attacking, but the tone was unpleasant to read. But the essays are now taking a more literary turn, and I have hopes I will like the remaining ones.